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George Grote , D.C.L., LL.D. (1794-1871)

This article was written by George Croom Robertson and was published in 1890.

George Grote, , D.C.L., LL.D., historian of Greece, born at Clay Hill, near Beckenham in Kent, on 17 November 1794, was the eldest of eleven children (ten sons and one daughter) of George Grote and Selina Mary Peckwell. His father (b. 1762) was eldest of the nine children (by second wife, Mary Anne Culverden) of Andreas Grote (1710-1788), who came over from Bremen to London towards the middle of the century, and who, after prospering as a general merchant, joined with George Prescott in 1766 to found the banking-house in Threadneedle Street known at first as Grote, Prescott, & Co., later by other titles, which included the name of Grote till 1879.

Through his maternal grandmother, named Blosset, Grote was connected with more than one family of Huguenot refugees. His maternal grandfather, the Rev. Dr. Henry Peckwell, rector of Bloxham-cum-Digby in Lincolnshire, but serving a Countess of Huntingdon's chapel in Westminster, was an eminent preacher; struck down in the prime of life (1787) by blood-poisoning incurred in the post-mortem examination of a young woman whom he had tended medically as well as spiritually, in connection with a charity called ‘The Sick Man's Friend,’ of his own founding. Selina Peckwell, thus left fatherless (with one brother, Henry, who later took the maternal name Blosset and became chief justice of Bengal), was of uncommon beauty, and when she married the elder George Grote in 1793 was noted for her gaiety. Afterwards she took a serious turn and sought to bring up her children with great strictness; not helped in this by her husband, who was indifferent in the matter of religion.

After getting his first instruction, including the rudiments of Latin, from his mother, Grote was sent to school at Sevenoaks, under a Mr. Whitehead, when only five and a half. About the age of ten he passed to the Charterhouse, under Dr. Raine, and remained there for six years. At the Charterhouse began his lifelong intimacy with George Waddington (afterwards dean of Durham), whose ‘History of the Reformation’ he was induced to revise before publication in 1841. Another schoolfellow, who turned like himself to Greek history, Connop Thirlwall, was also an attached friend in later life; but, Grote being elder by some three years, they were not thrown together as boys. The school-work was wholly classical, except for an English theme; mathematics not being introduced till some time after Grote had left. It sufficed, however, to beget a genuine love of learning, which survived the plunge into business-life at the bank imposed on him by his father at the age of sixteen.

Living for the next ten years under his father's roof, in Threadneedle Street or at Beckenham (with daily rides on horseback to and from the bank), he pursued classical reading, took up German, extended his view to political economy (from 1812), and gave also not a little time to the violoncello. Friendship with two young men of his own age, Charles Hay Cameron and George W. Norman, influenced his mental development; Cameron helping to turn him to the study of philosophy. He was the more thrown upon friends because his father had only contemptuous discouragement for his intellectual pursuits, and his mother's puritanical severity rendered the home-life uncongenial. By nature he was greatly dependent on the sympathy of others if he was to do justice to his powers and overcome an ever-haunting tendency to mental depression. It was his good fortune, then, through his friend Norman, to form another intimacy destined to affect his whole career. He fell deeply in love (1814-15) with the fascinating and accomplished Harriet Lewin, whose family was then settled in Kent a few miles off. His advances were received with no disfavour, but presently the ill-offices of a supposed friend, in reality a disappointed rival, Peter Elmsley, led him to believe that Miss Lewin was already engaged. The thought that he was being trifled with came upon Grote as a crushing blow. In the first prostration, he bound himself never to propose marriage to any one without first obtaining his father's sanction. The elder Grote thus had power to prevent the renewal of the suit to Miss Lewin when, after a few weeks, the rival's deception was exposed; and, some three years later, when the young people by chance met again and understood each other, could still insist that they should not be united for two years more, and that the families should meanwhile have no intercourse. To Grote himself the whole five years (from 1815) were a time of much suffering. Some verses printed for private circulation by his widow in 1872 belong almost wholly to this period. A more promising effort of his pen, from 1817, was a short essay on Lucretius, which, with some reflection of his own melancholy in the course of its special criticism, has in it a vein of superior observation on the conditions and limits of the poetic art generally. The emotional tension was lessened from 1818, when he could hold converse with his betrothed, at least in writing. They kept diaries for each other's benefit; his diary carefully records all his reading. He was steadily becoming more engrossed in philosophical as well as in economical and classical study; going beyond English thinkers, like Berkeley, Hume, and Butler, to Kant, then little regarded in England, and this although he was just then (from 1818) coming under the very different influence of James Mill. To Mill he was introduced by Ricardo, with whom his interest in political economy had led him to seek relations in 1817. It is evident, from a letter in 1819, that he had scruples of feeling as well as of understanding to overcome before yielding himself to Mill's dominion. Mill next introduced him to his own master, Bentham. By 1820 he had thus finally chosen his leaders in thought and public action, though his scholarly habits continued always to give him a wider outlook than was common in the Bentham-Mill circle.

Tired of waiting, Grote and Miss Lewin were married, without their fathers' knowledge, at Bexley Church early in the morning of Sunday, 5 March 1820. Mr. Lewin was informed in a day or two by his daughter, who had immediately returned home; the elder Grote, not till after some weeks. The step was condoned, and the young couple, in the course of the year, were established with moderate means in a house adjoining the bank. They lived as much as they could away from the city, on account of Mrs. Grote's health, at first occasionally, afterwards (from 1826) permanently; but Grote, having now thrown upon him much of the weight of his father's part in the business, was bound to be in daily attendance at the bank, and, for a certain period of the year, to see to the opening and locking-up. His public authorship began in 1821 with a ‘Statement of the Question of Parliamentary Reform,’ directed mainly against a theory of class-representation set forth in the ‘Edinburgh Review’ by Sir J. Mackintosh. This pamphlet (summarised in introduction to Minor Works of George Grote) shows the influence of James Mill's theory of government; but Grote already contends fervently for his own favourite ideas of political reform, such as secrecy of voting and frequency of election. Next year, besides making a vigorous onslaught, in the ‘Morning Chronicle,’ upon a declaration by Canning against parliamentary reform, he accomplished a difficult task in connection with Bentham. An ‘Analysis of the Influence of Natural Religion on the Temporal Happiness of Mankind, by Philip Beauchamp,’ issued in 1822 by Richard Carlile, then safe in Dorchester gaol, was the work of Grote, founded upon a mass of written material committed to him by Bentham. The manuscripts, upon which Bentham had worked in his irregular fashion from 1815, were, with his covering letter of suggestions as to the use to be made of them, given by Mrs. Grote to the British Museum after her husband's death. A comparison of them with the printed volume shows the enormous amount of labour required to bring them into form. Grote had practically to write the essay, leaving aside the greater part of the materials before him and giving to the remnant a shape that was his rather than Bentham's. Though the whole discussion, resulting in a strongly adverse conclusion that is only in words not equally directed against the Christian revelation, has now an antiquated air, it is hardly less subtly thought than vividly expressed; and J. S. Mill says that the reading ‘contributed materially’ to his mental development.

Of a discourse on magic, recommended by James Mill in 1821 for insertion in the ‘Encyclopædia Britannica’ as ‘truly philosophical’ in character, the work of ‘a young City banker… a very extraordinary person, in his circumstances, both for knowledge and clear vigorous thinking,’ nothing more is known. Mrs. Grote, in 1823, reports fresh purchase of works of Kant, and speaks of him as ‘prepared for a furious onset of Kantism,’ which is remarkable enough at that time in a follower of James Mill. He does not appear to have been a member of the Utilitarian Society, founded by J. S. Mill in 1822-3; but when this gave place, after two or three years, to a new association for discussion on a basis of systematic readings, he lent the young men a room at the bank for their meetings, and before long joined them on their turning from political economy to logic. They met on two mornings of the week from 8.30 to 10 a.m., before the regular business of the day, and Grote, then living at Stoke Newington (Paradise Place), had to be early astir to get to Threadneedle Street in time. The logical readings were in Aldrich, the Jesuit Du Trieu (whose ‘Manuductio ad Logicam’ the society reprinted in 1826 at James Mill's instance, in disgust at Aldrich's superficiality), Whately, and Hobbes; the psychology of Hartley was next studied; and, after an interval, meetings were resumed during the winter of 1829-30 for the reading of James Mill's ‘Analysis,’ then newly published. J. S. Mill, in his ‘Autobiography,’ testifies to the moulding influence of these readings upon his own works, and they were not less potent in helping to fix Grote's philosophical bent.

These were not, however, Grote's chief doings in the ten years from 1820. It is certain that as early as 1822 he was committed to the project of writing a ‘History of Greece;’ while from 1826 till 1830 he was one of the most untiring promoters of the new ‘London University.’ Mrs. Grote's claim to have first suggested the ‘History’ towards the autumn of 1823 is not borne out by contemporary letters. Some considerable progress had already been made with the writing in the spring of that year, and the idea had been definitely conceived in 1822 at latest. If any external prompting was necessary, there is reason to believe that it came from James Mill. All that Grote wrote in the succeeding years (till 1832) proved in the end to be merely preparatory; but in 1826 he contributed a powerful article on the tory Mitford's ‘History of Greece’ to the April number of the ‘Westminster Review,’ which shows that he had already attained his main positions regarding Greek life and thought.

Classical, joined with philosophical, culture helped to give Grote, still a young man, his great influence in determining the character of the new ‘university,’ of which Thomas Campbell, James Mill, and Henry Brougham were the first projectors. Grote was joined with them from the first nomination of a regular council at the end of 1825, and was forthwith placed on the committees for finance and education, to which fell the chief burden of organising the great seat of learning in Gower Street that began its public work in October 1828. It is difficult now to imagine the labour and anxiety undergone at that time by the pioneers of a movement that has had the effect of transforming the whole higher instruction of the country. The records of the self-styled ‘university’ prove the astonishing ardour displayed by the three men, Mill, Grote, and Brougham (Campbell very soon fell out), who took the lead in all that was done, with earnest helpers like Z. Macaulay, H. Warburton, W. Tooke, and others. Mill and Grote especially, in spite of the other claims on their time and energy, gave that unremitting attention to details which is necessary for practical result. Grote's business-experience contributed to the great success in raising money for the undertaking at its first start; while he ably seconded Mill, who led the education-committee, in planning a professoriate of unexampled width of range, and in securing men of real distinction to fill the numerous chairs. One only of the appointments led to a difference between master and disciple. There were to be two philosophical chairs, one of ‘moral and political philosophy’ and another of ‘philosophy of mind and logic,’ according to a scheme that bears evident traces of Mill's hand. Hopes of obtaining men of the general standing of Thomas Chalmers, Robert Hall, or Sir J. Mackintosh for morals, and of Whately for logic, were disappointed. The actual candidates, when the chairs were first advertised in the spring of 1827, were men of no mark. Dr. Southwood Smith, a Benthamite, recommended in committee for the chair of morals, was not elected.

For the chair of mental philosophy and logic a dissenting minister, the Rev. John Hoppus, had been seriously considered, but no recommendation was made, in face of Grote's urgent contention, adhered to by Mill and Brougham, that in a professedly unsectarian institution no minister of religion could fitly occupy a philosophical chair. The ‘university’ consequently opened in 1828 with neither of its philosophical chairs filled. Then, in the spring of 1829, if not earlier, Grote put forward for the chair of moral and political philosophy his friend Charles Cameron. Cameron was formally recommended by the education-committee in June, but the council in July, at the instance of Z. Macaulay and others who would have no teaching of morals without a religious basis, passed the recommendation by with a resolution not to elect ‘at present.’ In the vacation some of the party proceeded to seek out a clerical candidate; and, with the consent of Mill and Brougham, Hoppus was recommended in November for the other professorship of mental philosophy, denied to him in 1827. Grote, though knowing that the appointment to this chair would be considered in committee, was for some reason absent. Mrs. Grote speaks of him as too busy otherwise, in the autumn of this year, to be able to attend meetings, but the minute-books report differently, and she has here overlooked more than one memorandum of peculiar interest which she made at the time. Grote was profoundly chagrined that the master in whom his confidence had till then been absolute should abandon the principle maintained in 1827, for the sake only, as it seemed, of appeasing orthodox sentiment in friends or enemies of the ‘university.’ At the council-meeting of 5 December, specially summoned to decide upon the committee's recommendation, he made a vehement but unavailing protest against the appointment. The incident had the effect of deciding him to withdraw, for a considerable term of years, from the educational work to which he had given the first of his public service. At the first opportunity, a few weeks later, he resigned his place on the council, to the regret, expressly recorded (2 February 1830), of the colleagues who knew what his labours had been.

Grote went abroad for the first time in the spring of 1830, with his wife. They were bound for Switzerland, but bad weather and still more the exciting state of politics kept them in Paris. Mrs. Grote has given a bright account of their visit to the veteran Lafayette at La Grange, to whom, as to other leading men of the opposition, they were introduced by their friend Charles Comte, son-in-law of J. B. Say and a refugee in England for some years past. With him had begun, and now were extended, those close relations with French liberals that remained to the last a special feature in the lives of both husband and wife. Hastily summoned home, to find his father already dead (6 July), Grote was now able to give practical proof of his interest in the cause of political reform. The moment he heard, 29 July, of the uprising in Paris on the previous day, he sent £500 to Charles Comte for the use of the revolutionary leaders, with an expression of regret that he could not be at their side in the struggle. Nor, though much engrossed in the next months by the duties devolving on him as his father's executor and by the business which fell to him as a full partner in the bank, was he less eager to turn to public use at home his new personal freedom and his now ample means. The character he had acquired as a man of business in the previous years began to give him a leading position among city reformers; and he also established relations with the active spirits (like Joseph Parkes) who were preparing in the provinces the victory of 1832. In the first weeks of 1831, at the request of James Mill, he threw off a considerable pamphlet, ‘The Essentials of Parliamentary Reform’, in which he took up the special argument of his ‘Statement’ of ten years before, while he further developed, with an infectious enthusiasm and absolute hopefulness, the most advanced proposals favoured in the Benthamite circle. A little later in the year he refused to stand for parliament at the general election, still hoping to complete his ‘History’ before entering on political life; but the passage of the Reform Bill, in the struggle for which he bore no small part as a private citizen, roused a feverish expectation of immediate practical results which proved too much for his scholarly scruples. In June he announced himself as a candidate for the city of London; in October he indicated in a telling and comprehensive address the special reforms for which he desired to work; and in December, after an exciting conflict, he emerged at the head of the poll, followed by three other liberals.

Grote sat through three parliaments till 1841, when he refused to be again nominated. At his second and third elections (January 1835, July 1837) he lost ground greatly at the poll, falling first to the third place among four liberals, then to the fourth, with the first tory only six votes behind him. The general reaction had soon set in, while the strenuousness and independence of his own political course did hardly more to exasperate opponents than to alienate the feeble-hearted of his own party. From the first he assumed a leadership among advanced liberals, but when it appeared that not all his concern for immediate practical reforms of a drastic kind could overbear his regard for general principles, he was followed by only a limited band of ‘philosophical radicals.’ Molesworth, C. Buller and (till 1837, when he lost a seat) Roebuck were the ablest of his direct adherents. As a speaker he was always impressive, and with practice and some training of the voice he ended by acquiring an effective parliamentary manner. A speech delivered in 1841, shortly before he retired, on the Syrian policy of the government in its relation to France, was noted at the time as a particularly successful effort; but he had all through made his mark, both in public debate on the most varied topics and as a working member of select committees. The question of voting by ballot was entrusted to him, in succession to his friend, H. Warburton, who had busied himself with it before the Reform Bill. Grote, who had advocated the ballot in his first political essay of 1821 with the ardour of a Benthamite, quickened by the student's enthusiasm for Athenian models, brought all his powers to bear upon the parliamentary struggle. He presented his plea, with the most cogent and varied reasonings, four times by way of motion (1833, 1835, 1838, 1839), twice by bill (1836, 1837); and in the two latest years was supported by the largest minorities (200 and 216 respectively) that he ever secured. Still the majorities were always decisive against him, and at last he abandoned the contest as hopeless in face of the growing political apathy. The cause was gained when he lay dying, by one who declared that Grote had left nothing to be argued on the subject. In the introduction to his ‘Minor Works’ Professor Bain has given a careful analysis of his speeches on the ballot, as well as on the other questions that specially drew him forth during his eight years of parliamentary service.

Though he had considerable influence on the shaping of practical legislation in directions that he had at heart, yet with the general political result of those years it was impossible for a reformer of his temperament to be other than dissatisfied. He could not but ask himself whether the sacrifice he was making in a vain effort to keep the liberals now in office up to their old professions was not too great. Business had left him time for continuous and fruitful study; but the addition of parliamentary labours had turned the student into a mere desultory reader, who yet could not forget the high satisfaction of his former estate.

Already in 1838 he had begun to ‘look wistfully back’ to his unfinished Greek ‘History,’ and the feeling grew stronger as the Melbourne ministry tottered on to its fall in 1841. By that time Grote's mind was made up to return to his books. Aristotle had laid hold of him in the winter of 1840-1; and, seeking no place in the new parliament of next midsummer, he got freedom (from the bank) in October to carry out a long-cherished plan of travel in Italy till the spring of 1842. On his return home, attendance at the bank alone stood between him and the devotion of his whole time to the ‘History,’ which he now recommenced on new lines. Then in the middle of 1843 he terminated his business-partnership, and became the scholar for good.

Throughout the parliamentary period (1832-41) Grote appears to have written nothing but a short and pregnant notice, for the ‘Spectator,’ 1839, of a collected edition of Hobbes's works begun in that year by his friend Molesworth; the edition was dedicated to himself as having first directed Molesworth's attention to a thinker who, under the accidental guise of a political absolutist, was so much of a ‘radical’ at heart. Now, in his fiftieth year, began his time of continuous and fruitful literary activity. The first two volumes of the ‘History’ were not worked off till 1845; but he had meanwhile contributed an article, instinct with mature philosophical thought, on ‘Grecian Legends and Early History’ to the ‘Westminster Review’ of May 1843, and a careful criticism of Boeckh's views ‘On Ancient Weights, Coins, and Measures’ to the ‘Classical Museum,’ 1844. His life was now spent between London and a country house at Burnham Beeches in Buckinghamshire, not without social recreation carefully provided by Mrs. Grote. But he never slackened in his work. One short flight to Paris was taken in the spring of 1844, upon which he renewed acquaintance with Auguste Comte begun at the time of an earlier visit, January 1840; and he was thus induced (by J. S. Mill) to join with Molesworth and Raikes Currie in affording pecuniary help to the philosopher when deprived of an official income in 1845 — help which he partially continued in the next year but no longer, since it began to be claimed as a right. Vols. i. and ii. of the ‘History’ were published in March 1846. The work was completed in the spring of 1856 by vol. xii.; vols. iii. iv. coming out in 1847, v. vi. in 1848, vii. viii. in 1850, ix. x. in 1852, xi. in 1853. If the work proceeded more slowly towards the end, there was reason for this, not only in the widening of the author's scheme (which yet had at last to be again in various ways contracted), but also in the labour entailed upon him from 1848 by the preparation of revised editions of the earlier volumes.

The ‘History’ had been received from the first, by all thinkers and scholars with any elevation of view, as the work of a master, not more conversant with his subject by direct and independent study of all the available sources of information than able, by an exceptional philosophical training and political experience, to interpret the multiform phases of Greek life with more than the bare scholar's insight. The first-published volumes, while hardly breaking ground at all with the story of historic Greece, gave the more opportunity for philosophical consideration of the Greek mythopeic faculty; then, as the historic drama became unrolled, the author's warmth of political sympathy gave living interest to a narrative that yet could never be fairly charged with degenerating into a one-sided plea. If apt to be drawn out with an earnestness and explicitness open to criticism from the literary point of view, the political lessons and ethical judgments so characteristic of the book render it the most instructive of histories. Nor even in point of style can it be said that the execution ever falls below the subject; while at places where the author's feelings were specially moved, as in the story of the catastrophe that befell the power of Athens at Syracuse, the narration becomes suffused with a grave and measured eloquence.

Grote's one other composition during all the years of the ‘History’ had direct relation to his absorbed interest in the politics of ancient Greece. This was a series of ‘Seven Letters on the Recent Politics of Switzerland,’ reprinted (with an added preface) in a volume towards the end of 1847, after they had appeared weekly in the ‘Spectator’ from 4 September, under the signature ‘A. B.,’ their authorship not being disclosed till the end. The ‘Letters’ were the outcome of a visit to Switzerland in July and August, undertaken immediately upon the formation of the Sonderbund (20 July), in which a strife of long standing among the Swiss cantons came to a head. Grote had followed the conflict with a special interest because of the analogy which those small communities bore to the states of ancient Greece. His observations on the spot convinced him that religious jealousy fed by jesuitical ambition was at the root of the political strife, but he had also to blame the radical party for action which left small hope that Swiss unity could be restored. The greater then was his satisfaction when, shortly after his book was published, the Sonderbund was decisively overthrown. This he recorded in a remarkable letter to De Tocqueville, which Mrs. Grote added to the ‘Seven Letters’ on a second reprint in 1876.

As soon as he had finished his ‘History,’ Grote, at the beginning of 1856, began putting his papers in order for the work on Plato and Aristotle, which he regarded as its necessary complement. He wrote, however, an independently argued review of his friend Sir G. C. Lewis's ‘Inquiry into the Credibility of Early Roman History’, before settling, after a short respite abroad, to his daily task. For some years he continued to speak of the coming work as ‘on Plato and Aristotle,’ but by 1862 Aristotle had dropped into the background. Not till the spring of 1865 did the three volumes of ‘Plato and the other Companions of Sokrates’ issue from the press. The size of the work was slightly reduced by the publication (in 1860), in pamphlet form, of a somewhat elaborate dissertation on ‘Plato's Doctrine respecting the Rotation of the Earth, and Aristotle's comment upon that Doctrine’. Here Grote took ground against the interpretation put by Boeckh and others on a famous passage in the ‘Timæus;’ contending that Plato, while holding the change of day and night to be due to the revolution of the sun in its sphere round the central earth, might also ascribe (for other reasons) a rotatory motion to the earth. The view has not commended itself to later scholars, but it was significant of Grote's whole conception of Plato's thought.

Accepting the traditional Platonic canon, he had to reckon with a writer who in different works appears to advocate conclusions at variance with one another. He found in the Platonic writings veins of thought of which little account had been taken in the current view of Plato as an absolute idealist. Above all he was impressed by the fact that the Greek thinker appeared often to be more concerned in Socratic fashion about mere exercise of the dialectical faculty than about any particular conclusions at all. The ‘Plato’ brings out aspects of Greek thought in the fifth and fourth centuries BC. which philosophical historians have generally thrust into the background, and is thus not likely to lose its importance. Before it was out the aged scholar had betaken himself without a moment's pause to his more congenial occupation with Aristotle. With seventy years upon him he worked as regularly and strenuously as ever; turning aside in 1865 only to express with great warmth his general approval of J. S. Mill's ‘Examination of Hamilton,’ in an article for the ‘Westminster Review,’ January 1866. Here, besides delivering himself on a number of philosophical questions that had long possessed him, he took occasion to acknowledge with fine gratitude the intellectual debt of his life to Mill's father; as later, in 1868, he was ready to join in supplying the desirable annotations to a second edition of his old master's ‘Analysis.’

Fearing that he might not live to complete the exposition of his favourite thinker, he anticipated one part of his task in an account of the ‘Psychology of Aristotle,’ appended to a third edition of Professor Bain's ‘Senses and Intellect’ in 1868. Some months earlier in that year he had also contributed to the same friend's ‘Mental and Moral Science’ two careful dissertations on the ‘History of Nominalism and Realism,’ and on Aristotle's theory of knowledge, besides some pages on the Stoic and Epicurean doctrines. Though he laboured upon Aristotle to the last weeks of his life, he was able, in fact, only to complete his account of the ‘Organon.’ He had hardly begun, after laborious analysis of the ‘Metaphysica’ and the physical treatises, to put into shape the results of his study when illness and death stopped his hand. All of his Aristotelian writing, so far as then known, that could be printed to any purpose was (under the editorship of Professor Bain and the present writer) issued in two volumes in 1872, the year after his death; a second edition (in one volume) following in 1880, with inclusion of some matter on the ‘Ethica’ and ‘Politica’ found in the interval among his papers.

After publishing the first two volumes of his ‘History,’ Grote began again to take active interest in public education. In June 1846 he delivered an address on the coming of age of the City of London Literary and Scientific Institution, which he had joined in founding in 1825, for young men engaged by day in mercantile pursuits. In July he reappeared, after an interval of sixteen years, on his old familiar ground of the ‘London University,’ now become (since 1836) University College, speaking to the students with the authority of an original founder who had lost none of his sympathy with its aims. He was re-elected to the council in February 1849, and from 1850 began continuous attendance. The college could soon again rely upon him as one of its chief pillars. He undertook the responsible duties of treasurer in 1860.

In 1868, when the headship of the college was vacated by the death of Brougham, there was a unanimous determination, initiated by the vice-president, Grote's old friend Lord Belper, that it should be assumed by the one survivor on the council from among the fathers of the old ‘university.’ As president he continued his active superintendence of every department of the college work, and within a few weeks of his death he was holding committee-meetings in his study. In 1864 he had presented to the college, for decoration of the south cloister, the ‘Marmor Homericum,’ a beautiful work of art by Triqueti, in coloured marbles, which represented (according to an idea of his own) the blind bard reciting before a group of typical listeners and Delian maidens, with a border of scenes and figures (some in marble relief) illustrative of the ‘Iliad’ and ‘Odyssey.’

On his death he left the reversion of £6,000 as an endowment to the chair of philosophy of mind and logic, the filling of which had a second time given him special anxiety and trouble. The first professor retiring in 1866, it became at once Grote's earnest desire to procure a successor who might treat the subjects of the chair with direct regard to modern requirements, as they had come through his own influence to be recognised in the examinations of the now independently constituted University of London. He held if possible more strongly than ever to his old opinion that the professor of philosophy should not be a minister of religion, committed before the world to a body of fixed doctrine on subjects coming within the scope of philosophic inquiry. The only candidate of distinction was the Rev. James Martineau, who as a unitarian divine came not the less within Grote's proscribed circle. Others, and first the professorial body of the college, now charged with the duty of recommending for the chair, did not recognise the disability; Mr. Martineau was accordingly submitted to the council as having the strongest claim to appointment. Through Grote's influence the recommendation was not accepted; but at the same meeting of council in August he was unable to carry either a general declaration that it was ‘inconsistent with the principle of complete religious neutrality proclaimed and adopted by University College to appoint to the chair of mental philosophy and logic a candidate eminent as minister and preacher of one among the various sects which divide the religious world,’ or the specific proposal to appoint that lay candidate whom he himself favoured, and to whom, after Mr. Martineau, the professorial report pointed as next eligible. During the vacation, when Mr. Martineau's rejection became known, there was much angry comment in the press; the action of the council being denounced, in rather mixed fashion, as a persecution of unitarianism in favour of orthodoxy, or of theistic philosophy in favour of materialism, or as both the one and the other. In November the decision as to Mr. Martineau was re-affirmed, and a new call for candidates was ordered. Grote, in spite of renewed denunciations, decided to maintain silence and work resolutely for a lay appointment. Curiously enough, he acted in complete forgetfulness that he had taken up the very same position on the first election. Not till some two years later was the old struggle brought to his recollection by the reading of a diary-note of Mrs. Grote's and great was the aged man's surprise at his lapse of memory.

His former action had only to be known, to have swept away the misrepresentations showered upon him in 1866; but his very forgetfulness gives the more striking evidence of his ingrained consistency of character. Unfortunately Mrs. Grote, though much impressed by it at the time, has not mentioned the fact in the narrative, otherwise very unsatisfactory and misleading, which she gave of the events of the year. A second report of the professors recommended the youthful candidate whom Grote had from the first preferred, Mr. Martineau being passed over on the ground of foregone double rejection. Grote in the council (December 1866) was just able, with the help of several men of strenuous character, to bear down various pleas for delay, and then by a more decisive majority to carry the election. The excitement soon died away, and it was little more than a year afterwards that he was raised by universal acclamation to the presidentship. His provision by will of an endowment (in prospect) for the chair, dated 1869, was laden with the characteristic condition, that if a holder of the professorship should at the time of his appointment be, or should afterwards become, ‘a minister of the Church of England or of any other religious persuasion,’ he should not receive the annual income of the foundation, but this should be ‘re-invested and added to the principal until the time when the said professorship’ should ‘be occupied by a layman.’ The endowment was made over to the college by Mrs. Grote in 1876, two years before her death.

From 1850 Grote's energies were not less devoted to the University of London, constituted by royal charter as an examining body in 1837, when the ‘London University’ in Gower Street had accepted incorporation as University College without degree-conferring powers. After a time of little efficiency, the new university, in 1850, had its governing senate reconstituted and strengthened by the addition of seven distinguished men, among whom was Grote. He at once began to join regularly in the senate's deliberations, and very soon took a leading part in preparing the great transformations which the university was to undergo. First, the graduates won the right to form a constituent part of the university with recognised powers, by help, from within the senate, of no one more than of Grote. By the time this right was formally conceded in a new charter (1858), the more radical change was also effected of throwing open the examinations (except in medicine) to all comers. These had been previously confined to candidates from certain affiliated institutions; the list of which, beginning with the two great London colleges (University and King's), had come to include, besides a number of dissenting theological colleges, some merely secondary schools and a place of evening instruction. When Grote joined the senate, the process of affiliation, which had long ceased to have exclusive reference to London, was going steadily forward. Afterwards, it began to be pushed on purpose by some who desired to render all restriction useless. Grote, who had worked so hard to found a teaching university in London, was at first anxious to maintain a system of ordered academic instruction in connection with the examining university. Finding, however, that the affiliation as it had been carried out had destroyed all power of directly securing this, he went over to the other side, and became foremost champion of the cause of open examinations. He essayed (1857), though in vain, to stem the opposition within University College to the proposed change, and drew up for the senate of the university the elaborate report that sought to meet the hostile arguments urged from many different quarters. This report, adopted in the end only by his own casting-vote in the chair, led, in 1857, to the final determination of the question by the new charter of 1858. He took a like decisive part in the protracted deliberations that ensued before the reformed scheme of examinations was launched, advocating in particular the claims of classical learning and of philosophy. At the same time, he was one of the readiest to welcome the idea of instituting special degrees in science (adopted in 1859), though he took care that the word ‘science’ should be interpreted in no narrow sense of natural as exclusive of mental and moral. Raised in April 1862 to the dignity of vice-chancellor, with chief control thenceforth of the working of the university, he was at first baulked in an effort that year to procure the admission of women to the examinations; but some years later (1868) he had the satisfaction of seeing access given to them on a special footing (which ten years afterwards was changed into regular franchise). Otherwise, so long as life lasted, his chief care was to struggle against less earnest or broad-minded colleagues for maintenance of the character, at once wide and thorough, which there had been a real desire in 1858 to give to the reformed schemes of examination. With the steady increase of untaught candidates, and an ever-changing body of examiners, it became more and more difficult to resist proposals for limiting the scope, if not lowering the standard, of requirement; and that the process was not sooner carried further was due to Grote's influence, exerted with a watchfulness and pertinacity all his own. Before the end he had the other satisfaction of seeing the university at last installed in buildings of its own, with all the circumstances of royal inauguration (1870) that seemed to put seal to the labour of so many years. Nevertheless, it cannot be said that Grote left the question of academic organisation in London as other than a problem which still remains to be solved.

Grote's appointment to a trusteeship of the British Museum (in succession to his friend Hallam) involved him from 1859 in further public work, which he discharged with his wonted assiduity; he took, in particular, a forward part in bringing about the local separation of the departments of natural history and of antiquities. Academic distinctions began to flow in upon him before the completion of the ‘History.’ In 1853 he was made D.C.L. of Oxford; the Cambridge degree of LL.D. followed in 1861. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1857, and in 1859 succeeded Hallam as honorary professor of ancient history to the Royal Academy. Besides receiving many other foreign honours, he became in 1857 correspondent of the French Academy of Moral and Political Sciences (section of general history and philosophy), and was taken up into the small number of foreign associates in 1864, the first Englishman thus distinguished after the death of Macaulay in 1859. He was offered a peerage by Mr. Gladstone in 1869, as a tribute to his ‘character, services, and attainments.’ The heart of the old radical was warmed by the recognition (as he wrote in reply) of ‘all useful labours’ of his, coming from a minister who had ‘entered on the work of reform with a sincerity and energy never hitherto paralleled.’ He declined, however, without a moment's hesitation, a position that would increase the burden of public and private labours already too heavy for his declining strength at the age of seventy-five.

He continued grappling with all his tasks till long after the hand of death was plainly upon him. It was in the winter of 1870-1, when he was greatly depressed by the fate of war that had overtaken his much-loved France, that unmistakable signs of approaching dissolution declared themselves. From January 1871 his last months, of lingering illness relieved by occasional gleams of hope that work might not yet be over, were spent in London, where he could still do something towards meeting his public engagements. In private he saw his more intimate friends till close upon the end, abating nothing of his intellectual interests, especially in the perennial questions of philosophy which had laid hold of him more and more as life advanced. The end came on 18 June. Six days later he was buried in Westminster Abbey, at the corner of the south transept and aisle, where afterwards was set up a bust (by Bacon) to commemorate his features. A marble profile in high relief, by Miss S. Durant, at University College, comes nearer in some respects to a true likeness.

To courage and tenacity of intellectual purpose, with single-minded devotion to public ends, Grote joined an unfailing courtesy of nature and great dignity of demeanour. A certain shyness of manner was the outward token of an unaffected modesty that was beautiful to see in one whose work of its kind, for quantity and quality taken together, has never been surpassed. Consideration for others, on a full equality with self, was his guiding principle of action. It made him, as he was in private the most conscientious and methodical of workers, a man who could be absolutely relied upon in association, punctual and regular to a proverb in everything that he undertook with others, and scrupulously fairminded in all his judgments. At the same time, under the calm exterior there lay, as those who knew him best were aware, enthusiasms and fires of passion which it took all his strength of reason and will to control.

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